A Single Man, the classic gay novel by Christopher Isherwood, is going from page to screen in a project directed by fashion god Tom Ford and starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. This is terrifically exciting and long overdue.
The movie had its world premiere last week at the Venice Film Festival and all reports point to Ford’s freshman effort as being something of great beauty, emotion and, of course, style. Colin Firth won the festival’s Best Actor prize. During a press conference, Ford and the cast received an uncharacteristic standing ovation from the press corps. At the Toronto Film Festival a few nights later, the Weinstein Company paid a six-figure sum for the U.S. and German rights.
A Single Man is set in 1962 Los Angeles where 52-year-old literature professor and British expat George Falconer (Colin Firth) is coping — and not coping — with the accidental death of his longtime companion (Matthew Goode). Focused on the events of a single day, the story follows George as he navigates his past, his devastating grief and his present. Charley (Julianne Moore) George’s BFF and confidante, and Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) a student with designs on him, are two people who infuse George’s day with human interaction, but fundamentally this 24-hour saga is an examination, from the mundane to the sublime, of George as a solitary gay man. Sad, happy, biting, comical, George streams his innermost thoughts to us about what it means to be alive.
Beyond being an interesting character micro-study, A Single Man is an important novel in the context of gay literature. Penned five years before Stonewall, the book was scandalous in its day for the matter-of-fact treatment of the main character’s homosexuality. George is not troubled or suicidal because he is gay, as was common in fiction from that time period, he’s troubled and suicidal because his young lover was snatched away by death without any notice. Here, Isherwood freely shares George’s everyday as this man comes to terms with being a gay widower, flirts with young guys at the gym, observes how much more fit older gay men are compared to their straight counterparts and so forth. George honestly and unapologetically observes a very normal gay life lived in a straight world. This was subversive stuff in 1964.
Interestingly, David Scearce, the movie’s screenwriter, sheds light in an interview with the National Post on at least one answer to the long standing question of why this film hasn’t been made until now:
“This is my first film and my first script,” said Scearce from his Vancouver office, where he works on aboriginal legal issues. “I wrote it all on spec, and when it was done, I sent it off to Don Bachardy, who was Isherwood’s life partner and owns all the rights to his books.” Though Scearce says he knew Bachardy, he knew it was a gamble to send off unsolicited material. “But [Bachardy] was impressed with it because out of all the adaptations he’d seen, it was the only one that didn’t use a voice-over. … I used flashbacks instead.”
There are many reasons that A Single Man the movie is adding up to something to eagerly anticipate. Curiosity about Tom Ford’s signature. Participation by actors whom audiences respect tremendously. Interest in a screenwriter’s first script, adapted from an iconic gay novel. It looks like it could be magic.
A Single Man will get a limited release this year in order to be considered for the Academy Awards and a wide release in 2010. The film will be shown at the London Film Festival on 16 October followed by the Tokyo festival 19 October.
PS: Whatever you do, read the book first if you haven’t already.